Sipping on some hot tea while lighting a joint as he hosts his Sirius XM radio show, Grandmaster Caz is one of the true pioneers of hip-hop.
“When that infamous party took place at Sedgwick Avenue, I lived walking distance to 1520 Sedgwick Avenue,” said Grandmaster Caz.
He said he was 13 years old in 1973 when Kool Herc DJ’ed a party in the Bronx that is considered the moment hip-hop was born.
Caz, however, wasn’t quite old enough to go to those parties.
“The older kids on the block were going down there to see Kool Herc. I just got the news when they came back. So, since I wasn’t old enough to go, I tried to recreate what I heard was going on in my little circle in my house,” Grandmaster Caz said. “I got records. I had a bunch of records, you know what I mean? Turntable. I start, you know, playing records like I thought the DJs were playing. I started dancing, break dancing.”
Just a couple years later, Grandmaster Caz was going to clubs to see his idol Kool Herc move the crowd.
“The Hevalo was right off of Burnside Avenue on Jerome. I was too young to get in there, but I was standing outside because I knew he was in there playing,” recalled Caz. “I did sneak in the Hevalo one night. And when I saw the culture, you know what I mean? When I saw the music, when I saw the dance, I saw the DJ, I was like, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do. This is what I want to be.’ I made up my mind at an early age that this is what I’m gonna do.”
Caz added, “Kool Herc would look for the rare, obscure joints. The parts of the songs he played is what made it hip-hop, the breaks. The part with the breakdown, when the drum beat just come, like that inspired the dance, break dancing.”
Fast forward to 1979: Grandmaster Caz is part of the hip-hop group the Cold Crush Brothers.
That same year, the Sugar Hill Gang takes hip-hop global with the song “Rapper’s Delight.”
Although Grandmaster Caz didn’t perform on Rapper’s Delight, lyrics used from his personal rap notebook helped to make the song a smash hit.
“I wrote all of Big Bang Hank’s lyrics for Rapper’s Delight. And I didn’t write them for Big Bang Hank,” he said.
Caz starts to rap then: “I’m the C-A-S-A-N-O-V-A and the rest is F-L-Y.”
His rap name at the time was Casanova Fly.
“He just said it the way I say it,” Caz added.
Caz raps more of the song for me then: “From the time I was only six years old, never forget what I was told. Never let a MC steal you rhymes.”
At the time, Big Bang Hank, who was Caz’s manager, was asked to join the Sugar Hill Gang because people heard him singing raps.
Caz said when he first heard the song “Rapper’s Delight” he thought it was horrible, but it turned into a major force changing the musical landscape.
Over the years, many rappers have copied Grandmaster Caz’s style to enhance their own.
He said he is proud to say hip-hop didn’t create him, rather he helped to create hip-hop.
“I feel great. I feel accomplished. You know, I feel like I did something in this lifetime. So if that’s all I did, I did some s—. Excuse my language.”
Stories like Caz’s and many others from hip-hop’s history will be a part of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum.
It’s permanent space now under construction on Exterior Street in the South Bronx. It’s slated to be 53,000 square feet with two levels, a theater and a restaurant. Founders of the museum hope to have the doors open in 2025.